…Lawmakers, other guests scamper for safety
…Protest exclusion from making a presentation
…Fracas over 10 per cent equity shares
…Bill may cut monthly revenue flow to Federation Account — Finance Minister, RMAFC
…Lawan pushes for reduced cost of crude oil production
By Levinus Nwabuogo
Lawmakers scampered for safety, yesterday, on the second day of the public hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, organised by the House of Representatives, as some members of host communities in the Niger Delta exchanged blows over harmonised leadership presentation directed by the House.
Consequently, the Room 028 venue of the public hearing was thrown into pandemonium, with other guests running helter-skelter to avoid being hit in the free-for-all.
The people had gathered from various oil-producing communities with a greater number from the core Niger Delta states to make presentations on the bill.
Fight, however, broke out at exactly 12:10 pm after the chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee on PIB, Mohammed Monguno, who had been moderating the proceedings, called the host communities to make their inputs.
Monguno had earlier given a notice that only a harmonized leadership of the host communities would make presentations through one person.
This apparently did not go down well with the people who struggled among themselves over who should represent them.
At this point, a fight broke out, disrupting the proceedings. The unhealthy development left lawmakers and other participants scampering for safety
However, calm was restored within minutes after policemen at the venue intervened in the matter.
With this, the committee chairman announced that henceforth, members of the host communities will only adopt their memoranda and exit the podium, assuring that the panel will visit communities in the coastal region to properly engage them.
Why we fought — Tamaranebi
While one of the men involved in the fight could not speak to journalists because he sustained injuries on his mouth, the other party, who gave his name as High Chief Benjamin Style Tamaranebi, said the fight was all about the demand for 10 per cent equity shares by the host communities.
He further identified himself as the National President of the Host Communities of Nigeria’s oil Producing Communities, HOSTCOM.
It will be recalled that the Federal Government had in the PIB, proposed 2.5 per cent as royalty for host communities, but Tamaranebi said it was not enough for the people and, therefore, demanded upward increase to 10 per cent.
“We are here for the public hearing on behalf of host communities of Nigeria producing oil and gas. I am the president of host communities and all we are asking for is nothing more than 10% equity shareholding. We vehemently go against 2.5% operating cost. That’s a trick.
“So, we want to be part and parcel of it. Let us be shareholders in the industry. That will guarantee security in our local communities that are producing oil and gas. If they give us 10% shareholding, it will guarantee that no one will spill oil or vandalize any pipeline.
“But whatever thing that gets missing, communities will be missing as well. I want to agree on the 10% equity shareholding for the host communities. That will guarantee security in the region as well as the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.
“I think it is not necessary for me to talk about whether we fought or not. You know all about the Niger Delta. There is no king, we are all comrades. You know about us. When Niger Deltans gather, everything is bound to happen.
“All we are agitating for is 10% equity. The fight is because of 10% equity. All the fight you saw there was in agreement with 10% equity.”
‘They are racketeers’
Also speaking on the development, Barr. Gouha Ukhorumah, who represented the Offshore Gbaramatu and coastal Host Communities in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State, said the quarrel was basically between two factions of a group who referred to themselves as host communities without a specific kingdom or local government as an area of coverage.
“They are paper tigers and racketeers who represent nobody but themselves. They are what we call political host communities because our group has been having MoUs with oil companies and managing their corporate social responsibility policies over the years.
“That’s why we said they don’t represent anyone because they can’t be identified with any kingdom or ethnic group in the region. But as God will disgrace them, they are now fighting themselves because they are more about what they can get as individuals.”
Voice of Esau, the voice of Jacob — Delta monarch
Also speaking to Vanguard, His Royal Majesty, King Monday Obukowho Whiskey of the Jere Kingdom in Ethiope Local Government Area of Delta State described the fight as the hand of Esau, the voice of Jacob.
“I would not want to make a comment on that because that has always been what we have in the Niger Delta. When we are to make presentations that will better a lot of our people, some undesirable elements will be sponsored to go against the will of the people.
“What you saw is the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob. From the aggressiveness he displayed there, you will know that he intentionally did what he did. A man was seated and you went to fight him. As a traditional ruler, I will not want to make comment on that,” he said.
Fight caused by committee chair’s announcement — Henshaw
Another participant, Ken Henshaw, who said he was the leader of the civil society and host communities in Niger Delta, attributed the fight to the announcement made earlier by the chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Monguno, that only one person will speak for the host communities.
He said: “It is a very unfortunate incident. It is one which we do not accept in any way. What you saw is not what the Niger Delta is but sometimes, some situations lead to such conflagrations.
“When you say that only one person will speak on behalf of the entire communities of the Niger Delta, that’s what you get. And immediately, conflict was created. I stand to be corrected but the conflict you saw in there today was a conflict created by the manner this public hearing was managed. If every person who had an intention to speak was called to speak, this crisis would not have happened.”
Host communities protest non-Inclusion
Speaking further, Henshaw picked holes in some clauses in the PIB, saying the document did not meet the expectations of the people of the host communities.
He said: “The host communities and civil society organizations in the Niger Delta were not allowed to speak and we consider this an abnormality and we simply state that this is not a public hearing because there are serious issues in the PIB that we need to discuss.
“One: the governance structure of the PIB gives too much emphasis to the oil companies. It says that the oil company has the responsibility of setting up oil company board of trustees. The board also sets up the management committee. And very little role is given to the oil communities themselves.
“Even in the definition of host communities, the PIB is silent and it seems to simply say that the oil company has got the right to define who a host community is. This is a recipe for crisis.
“If you look at the PIB also, you would find that there is no structure for dispute resolution. And we came here to state clearly that there is a need for us to have a forum created by law that allows people who feel aggrieved to air those grievances.
“But that was not mentioned. And if you look also at the PIB, it states clearly that oil-producing communities have the responsibility of first-line protection of oil facilities. And the question is simple. The protection of oil facilities and oil theft has been a major problem.
“The Civil Defence has failed. The Nigerian Army has failed. The JTF has tried and failed. Everybody has tried and failed. And they have not been held accountable or punished. But they say oil-producing communities have the responsibility of protecting oil pipelines and facilities.
“How do you expect unarmed community members to protect facilities against armed criminals who steal oil? It is impossible. It’s double jeopardy. It is an abuse to ask the host communities to take over the responsibility of the police, army or JTF to protect oil pipelines. It doesn’t happen anywhere.
“Take a look at the provision for gas flaring. The PIB simply states that fines can be paid for gas flaring, even the minister can give a waiver for gas flaring and we think that is wrong. The fine for gas flaring is paid to the Federal Government.
“Host communities are the ones who suffer the environmental effects, the health effects of gas flaring and they get absolutely nothing from gas flaring fines. That’s absolutely wrong.”
Asked if they were officially invited to make a presentation, Henshaw said: “I don’t need to be invited. This is a public hearing and by definition, a public hearing is a public forum. We don’t need to be invited. We came as stakeholders and we submitted our memo on time and our names were listed to speak.”
We disagree with PIB provisions — PANDEF scribe
Similarly, the leader of Niger Delta Dialogue, the think-tank of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Barrister Inibehe Effiong, fumed, saying the PIB did not clearly define “host communities”.
He said: “What this committee has done today is a tragic injustice. It is a slap on the people of the region. You can’t have one set of rules for the multinationals and officials of government on how to articulate their positions and have totally different rules and regulations for host communities and organizations like ours that articulate the interests of the Niger Delta.
‘’So we feel that this a further demonstration of the contemptible manner that the Nigerian state has treated the people of the region.
‘’This is unacceptable and we will continue to demand that if this so-called host fund that they want to provide for is going to translate into anything, there has to be a significant conversation with the people of the region.
“As I speak today, we left this public hearing without an understanding of what host communities are. As far as I am concerned, this public hearing may be defeated as far as the host communities are concerned.
“We took time to x-ray the provisions of the Bill and as far as I’m concerned, when the Group Managing Director of NNPC spoke, he made a comment that he was the Chairman of the Technical Committee that came out with this Bill.
“So this is a Bill that was drafted by the executive arm of government, handed over to the lawmakers to pass without taking into consideration the input of the people.
“When you have a regime like the one led by the current President that has clearly shown total disregard for the diversity of this country, you can’t trust that government to come up with a PIB that reflects the yearnings and aspirations of the people.
“This is the PIB that was born in the bedroom of the President, handed over to the speaker of House of Representatives and Senate President to be passed expeditiously and that is why you can see this Bill replete with errors, it is fundamentally defective.”
No reasonable provision for revenue inflow to FG — Finance Minister, RMAFC
Making his presentation at the hearing, the chairman, Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Elias Mbam, told the lawmakers that the bill might cut the flow of revenue to the Federal Government.
He said: “The commission supports fully the aims and objectives of this Bill. However, there are some areas we concerned strongly. The Bill did not make reasonable provision on the inflow of revenue to the federation.
“If we have NNPC Limited that is talking about dividends which may come once a year, how do we guarantee a continuous inflow of revenue monthly into the Federation Account?
“Secondly, we are aware that all revenue from hydrocarbons is a revenue item of the Federation Account but where taxes are deducted from hydrocarbon revenue, it is the same thing as encroaching on the Federation Account.
“So we expect that the Bill should not be to the disadvantage of monthly revenue to the Federation Account. On the host community funds, the commission is totally in support of its establishment.
“Our concern is the source of the fund. There is subsisting law which has provided 13% to address issues that are related to community funding. We feel that the source of the fund should be from that 13%.”
Mbam’s position was also echoed by the Minister of State for Finance, Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, who warned against losing tomorrow’s future for today’s gains.
“From the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, we are currently engaging our colleagues from the petroleum sector to harmonize the government’s views on certain areas where we see some rooms for improvement. So, as one government when we are through, honourable chair, we will be giving you our memorandum.
“We are moving in the right direction with the PIB but it is important that as much as we want to protect today’s revenue, we should look at sustainability. We should look at how revenue streams will continue to flow over the years and these are areas that from the Ministry of Finance, we are looking at because we don’t want to get all the money today and lose tomorrow’s money,” he said.
Lawan seeks oil production cost cuts
Meanwhile, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, has pushed for a cost reduction in the production of crude oil by International Oil Companies, IOCs, operating in Nigeria.
According to Lawan, the new Petroleum Industry Bill currently before the National Assembly will accommodate provisions to ensure the same when the bill is eventually considered and passed by the end of the first quarter this year.
The Senate President made this known when a delegation of Oil Producers Trade Section, OPTS, paid a visit to his office at the National Assembly yesterday
“The cost of production in Nigeria is a major concern in the oil industry. My colleagues in the committees that are oil and gas-related know better.
“But from the little I understand, when Saudi Arabia maybe spends $5 dollars (USD) to produce a barrel, we spend about $30 dollars (USD) to produce the barrel in some cases.
“The time has come for us to ensure that the cost of production is beaten down to a more meaningful and profitable production cost.
“I believe that the Petroleum Industry Bill, making provision for funds to go into the host community funds, would probably this time around getting us a better deal with the communities.
“We must do everything possible together to ensure that the host communities benefit wherever they are supposed to benefit, not only the host community development fund but in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other areas of government intervention – the Amnesty Programme and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
“How do the host communities benefit, because we need to stabilize those areas so that we have cheaper production costs,” Lawan said.
The Senate President while stressing the importance of the PIB towards the advancement of Nigeria’s economy, assured that the Upper Chamber would accommodate the interest of international investors operating in the country.
Lawan, however, bemoaned the low influx of business investors to Nigeria, a development he attributed to the absence of a legal framework which the Petroleum Industry Bill seeks to address.
He said: “In the last 20 years, investments coming into Nigeria and this industry have been so dismal and so small compared to the size of what we have in Nigeria, maybe due to lack of a legal framework – the PIB.
“So, we are very conscious of ensuring a balance and equilibrium between our interest as a people and a country, that we should have all the benefits accruing from your operations.
“We need to help you by creating that kind of environment where you’re able to argue and get the investments to flow into Nigerian, instead of elsewhere. Let me also add, that at the end of the day, this is going to be balanced legislation.”